When we run seminars on influencing skills we typically start off by exploring a couple of fundamental questions – one of them being how do people feel about the idea of influencing others and being influenced? Over the years we’ve had a surprising range of responses including “If I’m the manager why must I influence -people should just do what I say” to “influencing is manipulating” to “I’m open to new ideas and approaches – but our colleagues in the order management department aren’t!”. As a trainer these are always great places to start – opinions are on the table and we can openly discuss them. When we dig deeper these opinions often link into personal experiences of how people have influenced (or not). So how do people influence each other?
The two influencing styles – pushing and pulling
Broadly speaking there are two approaches to influencing people – to push and to pull. When we “push” we are directive. We know what we want to see happen, where we want to go, what needs to be different etc. And when we “pull” we are looking for a joint agreement, for collaboration, discussion, commitment. There are different pushing styles and pulling styles, plus strategies, tactics and skills to learn BUT neither approach is inherently wrong. Influencing and manipulating draw on the same skills but with different intents. They both have pros and cons– and neither approach work without considering other key factors too.
Factors to consider when seeking to influence somebody
When we try to influence somebody it helps to take a step back and reflect on what we know. What is the environment, the situation, the relationship and most importantly – what do you know about who you are trying to influence? How successful you’ll be always depends upon what you know about the other person. Examples of practical questions to ask yourself when trying to influence somebody include:
- how do they see things?
- what is their context?
- how they communicate?
- how do they like to be communicated with?
- how do they take in information and make decisions?
- what are their experiences – with me, with change, with the theme I’m talking about
- what turns then on? What turns them off??
- what do they want to happen, not want to happen and why?
- what are their hopes and fears?
- Who else has an influence upon them? and does this influence help or hinder?
- What is in it for them? their colleagues? Their organization?
First seek to understand the other person – a transcultural truth
The more you understand the person you are seeking to influence the more effectively you can influence them. As dale Carnegie said in How to win friends and influence people “I love strawberries. But whenever I go fishing I bait my hook with worms. This is because fish like worms – not strawberries.”
In English we have expression like put yourself in their shoes, put yourself in their place, see the world through their eyes and walk a mile in their shoes. And of course the idea of putting yourself in somebody else’s shoes is transcultural! Germans say eine Meile in seinen Schuhen gehen, Italians mettersi nei miei panni, French se mettre à la place de quelqu’un … All cultures- whether it be Europe, the Americas, Africa or Asia and the Pacific have similar expressions.
Put simply, if you want to influence somebody then seek to understand where they are and who they are. Start by understanding their situation, use your emotional and social intelligence and then adapt.
And if, like me, you’ve got the song “Walk a mile in my shoes” going around in your head now .. here it is.